Sex, The Bible, Our Traditions, and Freedom

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-31

Do not abuse your wife. Women are sacred. If you make your wife suffer, you will die in a short time. Our grandmother, Earth, is a woman, and in abusing your wife you are abusing her. By thus abusing our grandmother, who takes care of us, by your action you will be practically killing yourself.

— Native American Religions. A Winnebago Father’s Precepts

When women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards. When the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.

—Hindu Laws of Manu 3.56-57

We live in a world of duality versus our spiritual oneness, the duality of our physically formed bodies versus that of our spiritual Oneness with Divinity. We are more accustomed to the world of duality; good versus bad, cold versus heat, tall versus short, and right versus wrong. In our true and natural state, however, I believe we are all in Eternal Oneness with the Creator. But that’s hard for us to wake up to, and so we spend our lives trying to understand that, and to live it.

When it comes to marriage and relationships with others, we normally think in terms of duality; man and woman, husband and wife, parents and children, and so forth. In actuality, there is no duality. I love the line from the baptismal ritual which says that in Christ there is no male or female, but we are all one. (Galatians 3:28) I also recall the words of Jesus who taught that in “the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” because all are one. (Matthew 22:30) So how do we apply that to the marriage relationships that we are now living within and see around us?

Marriage is in troubled and changing times. In the latest census, divorce rates remain steady around 50% only with the added comment that as many wives now seek divorce as husbands. As far as infidelity as a cause, this is also a 50-50 initiated “sin.” The highest divorce rates also occur more likely in the years of marriage between age 20 and 24. The lowest divorce rates are in couples who marry after age 35, with only 5% rather than the 70% at earlier ages.

Forms of marriage have also changed drastically. Having both spouses working outside the home for income is now normal. In 1950, single income families were the norm, but now it is 80%.

In a 2000 survey it also revealed that 20% of married couples were now “swinging with others!” I hardly believe this trend has lessened 10 years later. What is interesting about these “swinging couples” is it 90% of them are in committed relationships. Only 2% of them divorce, and 70% of these members of “swinging couples” are members of churches, synagogues, and temples. Interesting. (Information: Wikipedia, www.actualswingers.com)

We are also in a period when increasing numbers of couples either decide not to be married in religious ceremony or to be legally married at all. In some countries, couples living together WBC (Without Benefit of Clergy) far exceeds the numbers of those who do!

When we turn to the Bible for answers about the ideal marriage, it can be more perplexing. When we study the 10 Commandments we notice the commandment “Thou shall not commit adultery” was really applicable toward men. Women had absolutely no social status with the equivalent status of a slave! The word of adultery means “sexual theft.” It was a prohibition against men stealing other wives and women which belonged to other men. And of course in those days men also could have many wives along with women servants as sexual partners who were called concubines.

King David committed adultery when he stole the wife of Uriah, who was named Bathsheba, and forced her into adultery while Uriah was out on the battlefield! Even worse, when David discovered she was pregnant, he ordered her husband back to the battlefield to be killed so that he could have her as his wife! (2 Samuel 11)

These laws or models of marriage, strongly in favor of men, are called “Patriarchal,” which means “men rule the women.” The Bible could easily be called a very patriarchal book. It is full of verses and stories in which men rule over women. In the New Testament we read “Wives, be in subjection to your husband as you are to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife just as Christ is head of the church!” (Ephesians 5:22 – 23)

In the recent trial in Buffalo, NY of Muzzammil Hassan, he used the same patriarchal arguments that come from the Bible and Muslim traditions. He claimed he had to kill his wife in order to stop the trend among women from taking away the patriarchal rule of men. (His words.) In this role he compared himself to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, and to Nelson Mandela! Yes, it was very extreme and shocking to hear and see but to be honest, such thinking does have roots in our religious histories.

Today, the leftovers from such Patriarchal thinking still linger within our culture. It is a reason many denominations refuse to give women leadership positions. In Protestantism, it is found in the leftovers from the Reformation even today, with groups withdrawing from our denomination over the ordination of women. One of the first women to be ordained an elder was from the Wayside Church I pastored in Hamburg, Martha Bushnell, back in around 1952. Such actions of the past century were radical departures from centuries of predominant patriarchal rule of men.

But the Patriarchal mindset is still around as seen especially through our Calvinist/Puritan heritage. The Puritans perhaps took the Bible more literally than any other Reformation group. Taking every word as literally God’s Word, they seriously applied its principles to relationships with men and women. In a recent book that I finished reading about Puritans sexuality and its effect on modern day American culture, the author concluded these two principles.

1. The woman is as wife is to be totally subjective to her husband. The husband is her “commander.” We still can see this in our culture, perhaps most evident in certain strains of fundamentalism among descendants of the Traditional Faith.

2. The woman as wife is to be totally submissive to sexual demands when asked for by her husband. This will enable the man to refrain from sexual immorality. Further, she is never to display any particular sexual longings for herself in physical expression or dress. (“The Puritan Conscience and Modern Sexuality” by Edmund Leites)

One can see in the last generation, especially since the 1960’s, a clear move away from these principles in patriarchies. Women are more than ever challenging to have equal rights with men in this country, and feeling free to express their own sexuality when they want to in dress and personal expression.

The question we now ask is, “What might be an answer today from the rule of Christ?” My answer is, “Freedom!” We can choose to be free to forgive and to love as we ourselves want to be loved. Our freedom need not force us to become a slave to anyone as a partner or to anything such as sexuality itself, or to any kind of excessive attractions or actions. Further, there ought to be no differences between opportunities for men and women. Opportunities ought to be based upon abilities and one’s desire to express, and serve, not according to ancient laws of male dominance and rule. They ought to be based equally on expressions of sexuality as a normal and beautiful part of our dualistic existence, as a way to express love and tenderness toward another, pointing toward that which is Divine Love.

Again, the highest form of spiritual awareness, expressed even in some of the higher forms of sacred Scriptures, teach that in Spirit or our Higher Selves, we are all One. And so even in our present physical forms of duality, with the opposite attractions of sexuality toward others, we are still the same in the Oneness of Eternal Spirit.

In some of the recovered lost gospel books of the early church, such as the Gospel of Thomas, believers were even encouraged to exercise their freedom by being able to strip off their clothes in front of each other and dance upon them!

“His disciples said, ‘When will you appear to us and when shall we see you?’ Jesus said, ‘When you strip without being ashamed and you take off your clothes and put them under your feet like children and trample them, then you will see the child of the living one and you will not be afraid.’” Thomas, #37, trans. By Marven Meyer

I first heard this when I was in seminary in Pittsburgh. The teacher felt this was a novel way to celebrate the Holy Eucharist! But isn’t there a certain beauty when people are able to see and relate to one another beyond a sexual attraction? Maybe those “nudist parks and colonies” are just far ahead of us! Maybe they are the fulfillment of the Gospel of Thomas’ description of freedom!

The point is, in our dualistic state of separate bodies and of polarities in this world, we are all prone to make mistakes. We vacillate between being patriarchal and matriarchal, between being settled and then needing to “reform” our thinking again, and again. It’s the very nature of being separated from one another, from awareness of our Spirit Selves. True, we can always work to make “Yin and Yang” become one, but the process here in our dualist state is a never ending one. And so in our waking hours, we try our best, pressing on toward the eternal light, toward non-attachment to that which is mortal. And when we fail, which is quite often, we simply remember again who we are as God Sons and Daughters, forgive ourselves and others, and continue on the journey toward wholeness and return to oneness.

It is as Daniel Nahmod has written in the song, “When I Hear The Music.”

There is no one way,

There is no foolproof plan

No fateful final chance

I just wake up each day, to the best I can

And when I hear the music, dance!

Talk shared with the folks at First Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, February 13, 2011, David G. Persons, Author.

About davepersons

Retired minister who writes, speaks, sings, hikes, golfs, climbs mountains, etc.
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